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Mat-Su teachers’ union says strike vote will begin Tuesday

If majority agrees, strike would likely take place in October
The school board and local teachers' union have thus far failed to come to an agreement over a deal for teachers.
The school board and local teachers' union have thus far failed to come to an agreement over a deal for teachers.(KTUU Staff | KTUU)
Published: Sep. 14, 2020 at 10:29 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A possible teachers' strike may be in store for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District as negotiations between the union and the school district come to a screeching halt.

However, while the vote on whether or not teachers will strike begins Tuesday, the timeline for the potential approval of a strike is more solid than when the strike might actually happen.

“We don’t know what our membership is going to say at this point,” said Matanuska-Susitna Education Association President Dianne Shibe.

MSEA, the local teachers' union, said Monday that after extensive negotiations with MSBSD, a vote on whether or not to strike will begin Tuesday morning and go through Friday. Emails would be going out to teachers on Tuesday morning, and if the majority supports a strike, Shibe said the union would then likely announce one for some time in early October. The union would have to give the district 72 hours' notice.

[RELATED: Mat-Su union considers strike vote after board offers ‘last best offer’]

An email from the school district would also be sent to families Tuesday morning, according to Public Information Officer Jillian Morrissey.

That email says in part that, “The impasse occurred on August 26, 2020, when MSEA rejected the School Board’s last best offer commitment to increase the teacher salary schedule this school year and the next two school years by 1.75% each year. The Board further committed to pay $22,320 per teacher per year towards their health insurance premium, plus 50% of premium increases each year.” Those commitments would increase the district’s expenditures by about $23 million, the email said.

“They were made to reach a bargaining resolution, despite the Board’s concern that no additional State of Alaska education funding will be appropriated during that three-school-year period of time,” the message continued, “or that Alaska’s dire fiscal circumstances might result in funding decreases.”

Shibe said the strike is a last resort, but that it’s the only remaining option now that the district appears to have left the negotiating table.

“We really feel very disrespected,” Shibe said, "that they have chosen to walk away from the negotiating table while we were still moving. We were still presenting different proposals, and then suddenly, they just quit speaking to us.

“I heard they want us to come back to the table for their last best offer,” she added. “That’s not negotiation.”

The school district said in early September that its recent proposal to the union was its “last, best offer.” MSEA then threatened to strike, saying the health care benefits and pay scales didn’t compensate well enough, particularly for the risks teachers are facing while conducting in-person classes during a pandemic.

Leadership within the district, however, maintains the school board’s offer is fair, and that it is a demonstrated effort to pay educators competitive salaries and benefits.

In a prepared statement sent earlier this month, the district said in part that, “In its latest salary comparisons, MSEA ignored stark differences in how other communities fund education and support teacher pay and benefits... The School Board’s offer provides ongoing salary increases to keep up with inflation. The offer is fair because it provides competitive health benefits.”

In an interview, School Board President Thomas Bergey said he doesn’t view the negotiation as “coercion” or “manipulation."

"We are not going to spend and more money than what we can ensure that the budget will be able to absorb,” Bergey said. “The new superintendent has found some more efficiencies in our budget and we were able to increase our offer.”

The school board will meet in a special executive session following Wednesday night’s school board meeting and could potentially change their position based on information presented by the superintendent.

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